The unstoppable Luke Dale-Roberts triumphs for the sixth consecutive year, with Ryan Cole alongside him in the kitchen and food that’s better than ever.
While the idea of dining at The Test Kitchen might be intimidating for some, guests will be delighted to discover, however, that it’s not over-the-top nor excessively elaborate. It feels like the easiest thing in the world, and that’s what makes The Test Kitchen the best.
Entering the first ‘dark’ room, you might wonder if you’re still in the bar area, so casual and effortless it all feels. Low chairs, wood-clad walls and dim lighting all contribute to a comfortable beginning to the experience. And what an experience it is.
A map is presented as a scroll, showing the culinary journey you’re about to make, from Peru to Japan and back down to South Africa. Think ceviche with the chef’s trademark stamp and a herbaceous stinging-nettle granita that you are sure to yearn for come the height of summer; a savoury billionaire’s shortbread made with chilli, dark chocolate and duck; and baby garden veg that you grasp by their green tails and dip into a creamy ssamjang paste sprinkled with crispy onion dust. Pork scratchings are dipped into milk stout foam atop a silver tankard; slivers of buttery Wagyu biltong are speared by a cinnamon stick. These amuse-bouche bites wrap up with lamb with XO sauce, and tandoori quail on a poppapadom-like crisp. Flavours both simple and complex abound as you eat with your hands. To complete the superlative opening act, you are invited to choose from a handful of cocktails, such as a rhubarb-and-custard negroni (with a sherbetty rim) and a smoky old fashioned made with lapsang souchong.
A knock at the brass portal admits you into the ‘light’ room, which is where the magic continues. You might start on another amuse-bouche of goat’s cheese rolled in charred leek dust, before moving on to a sweet seared scallop atop ‘cauliflower and cheese’, pine nuts, capers and sweet black garlic, all paired with the best jasmine tea of your life. Alternatively, there’s the crab-and-corn risotto with a smoky tea redolent of brown rice, or a beautiful semillon.
Seasonal mushrooms steal the show, first on a tray making its way around the room to show off the pearly folds, ripples and gills of the season’s bounty. Then they’re presented in a neat bowl after being lightly touched with butter and garlic in a hot pan, with broth poured over from a cast-iron kettle. Silver trays, tagines and earthenware bowls share space in an eclectic line-up of inter-continental flavours.
Good luck choosing between the seared beef sweetbreads with asparagus, morel mushrooms, porcini Hollandaise (paired with gorgeous vanilla tea), and the pork belly with smoked chestnut, wood-roasted sweet potato, and orange dashi. (Although the aroma of the sweetbreads being seared might convince you…)
The pre-dessert is one of the standouts, with individually piped berry caviar spheres (strawberry, blueberry, raspberry and blackberry), meringue shards, rhubarb-butter-poached strawberries, amasi-and-lime snow, and a quenelle of fresh dill ice cream. In the final dish, subtle floral lavender ice cream pairs beautifully with rusk, peach jellies and caramel tea.
For a parting gift of petit fours, look out for the gummy bears (earl grey, liquorice and lemongrass); billionaire's shortbreads that make another appearance, this time flavoured with ginger and cardamom; and a mind-blowing ending of a toasted turmeric marshmallow, still warm from the flames.
If you can’t drink – or even if you can – the tea pairing adds yet another layer to the almost-unthinkably layered meal. Allow smooth sommelier Tinashe Nyamudoka to guide you if you’re a wine lover, but then why aren’t you having the iconic wine pairing? You will not forget – nor regret – it.
Friendly and personable (and with personality), the staff allow you to be quite laid-back as they look after your every whim.
Wooden counters, touches of copper and brass, and felts make the world of The Test Kitchen feel at once urban-industrial (appropriate, given its location) and comfortable. The open kitchen is a stage on which chefs do their intense but fluid dance, often intuiting what is needed without words.
If you’re Ubering home, you will be escorted out to the car.
Eat Out critics dine unannounced and pay their own way. Read our full editorial policy here.
This is food entertainment as richly layered and enjoyable as a well-written film. Luke Dale-Roberts’s constant mantra is flavour, flavour, flavour – and nothing he and his team produce will be oversalted, ill-conceived, or dull. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.
After a sally of appetisers come two knockout quail dishes. First, a Peking-style breast in spectacular house hoisin with coriander, all tucked into a tiny sandwich of paper-thin pastry. The best way to eat it is in one mouthful – but it’ll leave you wanting more. Then there’s confit quail leg: perfectly tender little drumsticks served on pine needles, with burnt onion cream dolloped over pine-roasted chestnuts, for dipping purposes. It’s up to you to pick a winner. But there’s scarcely time, because next up is a smoked duck with a tasty walnut-and-date frangipane and a flourish of garlic and paprika pastes and foie-gras.
Even when classic flavour combinations are used, Luke finds a way to elevate them. A succulent scallop dish is wrapped in thin, crispy house-cured bacon and topped with crispy sage leaves – so far, so classic – but morsels of sweet black garlic with a gentle peck of capers and pine nuts add the final pinch of flavour to balance the sweet-salty picture.
While the menu shows Luke’s love of Asian flavours, the menu also gives a nod to South Africa. A curry-glazed kingklip dish pays tribute to a classic Cape Malay dish, with a beautifully creamy carrot-and-cashew purée to add a touch of refinement. There’s springbok loin too, crimson in the centre, plated on a splash of red-cabbage emulsion and a streak of almond cream. It’s hard to resist the urge to take a photograph.
Luke’s other talent is including unusual ingredients without compromising on the yum factor. If you’ve only ever known chamomile as a slightly insipid tea, then a pre-dessert scattered with the fragrant little yellow flowers will blow you away. Tiny friandises are soaked in burnt butter and laid with a creamy buttermilk quenelle on sublime gravel composed of roasted sunflower seeds and crumbs of honeycomb.
The second sweet offering highlights another fabulous but forgotten flavour: rhubarb. This dish is hot and cold, thanks to the flash-frozen blood-orange cells, scattered like confetti over the plate. It’s sharp and soft and crunchy.
Sommelier Tinashe Nyamudoka presides over a clever wine list showcasing South Africa’s most downright delicious wines in two price brackets. For those considering the wine pairing, there are two options: a pull-out-all-the-stops version, and a more affordable but great-quality list. There’s also a gorgeous cocktail trolley, from which a barman will prepare you a custom cocktail. Finish with an excellent Cape port from the port trolley.
Expect confident, understated service from a professional team. Servers weigh in and assist with other tables for certain dishes, which adds a nice variety to the evening.
The restaurant has just completed a massive refurbishment. The space is now split in two by a full height, charred wood wall. On one side, a dark, moody lounge; on the other, a light, elegant, 40-seater dining space. The original tables have been reupholstered and set with white linen. Dove grey and pale blue keep things light and fresh – although the original exposed brickwork remains.
The Test Kitchen has moved to a month-to-month booking system, so instead of planning months in advance, you’ll now just need to wake up very early on the morning of the first.
Eat Out critics arrive unannounced and pay for their meals in full. Read our editorial policy here.